Beloit baseball fans should recognize a lot of the names right in the middle of the biggest stories during the first week of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Team Israel has been the darling of the tournament thus far. They swept through Pool A with wins over Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands while outscoring those teams 20-10. Nate Freiman leads all players with 5 RBI in three games including a 4 RBI game in Israel's 15-7 win over Chinese Taipei. Freiman played a pair of rehab games for Beloit in 2014 and is currently making a strong case for a free agent deal after competing in the WBC. Catcher Nick Rickles delivered a pinch-hit single against Chinese Taipei, his only at-bat of the tournament serving as the backup to the red-hot Ryan Lavarnway of the Oakland A's. Israel also has former Snappers manager Tom Gamboa serving as their Third Base Coach.
Former Snapper Loek van Mil has found the spotlight pitching for Team Netherlands. His two scoreless outings for the Dutch against Korea and Israel have been solid, but his name is circulating for other reasons. His 7-foot-1 frame has gotten people talking around the world as the tallest player in professional baseball while working in the back end of the Dutch bullpen. The Netherlands also employs another former Snapper in their bullpen in Tom Stuifbergen who threw a scoreless inning against Korea.
Both Israel and the Netherlands have advanced to the second phase of round robin play in Pool E with Cuba and Japan that will take place Sunday, March 12 through March 16.
James Beresford and Luke Hughes powered Team Australia's offense during the first round . In Australia's 11-0 win over China, Beresford hit a missile to right field for a grand slam in the 8th inning to eventually enforce the mercy rule. Hughes also knocked in 4 RBI in that game with a homer of his own and a double. Pitcher Matt Williams (2008 Snappers) took the loss for the Aussie's against Japan after surrendering the go-ahead homer to Sho Nakata on the first pitch he threw in the 7th inning. Australia was eliminated by Cuba on Thursday.
Yovanni Gollardo (2004 Snappers) took the baseball for Team Mexico in their World Baseball Classic opener in Pool D play against Italy. He surrendered 4 runs over 4 innings as the starting pitcher, but Italy had a dramatic 9th-inning comeback to get the win.
Rene Tosoni was a Snapper shortly in 2007 to start his professional career. He was responsible for two of Canada's six total hits Thursday against the defending champs from the Dominican Republic.
Pool C play also features the United States and Colombia. Yohan Pino won 14 games for Beloit in 2006 and is on the Colombian roster.
Venezuela and Puerto Rico will square off in Pool D action beginning Friday. Yangervis Solarte (2008 Snappers) will be in uniform for a loaded Venezuela team while 2012 Snappers and current Minnesota Twins Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas are suiting up for a youthful and promising Puerto Rico team.
The top two teams in Pool C and D will convene in Pool F in San Diego March 14 through March 19.
Spring Training Roundup
Meanwhile around Spring Training, several former Snappers are off to solid starts. Especially past first round picks by the Minnesota Twins.
Ben Revere (28th overall in 2007 draft) is leading baseball in batting average at .526 (10-19) while also walking 5 times for the Angels. That's no surprise to Snappers fans that witnessed his team record .379 average throughout the 2008 season. Aaron Hicks (14th overall in 2008, 2009-10 Snappers) is now in his second spring with the Yankees. The Yankees are currently all about the youth movement, but Hicks is having a respectable start to his spring with a .300 mark at the plate with 4 of his 6 hits going for extra bases.
In A's camp, Trevor Plouffe (20th overall in 2004 draft) joined the Oakland Athletics in the offseason as a free agent and is in his first spring training outside of Fort Myers and the Grapefruit League. The 2005 Snapper has started Cactus League competition with a .500 average (7-14) with 3 extra-base hits and is poised to be the A's Opening Day third basemen.
Younger position players that were Snappers since the affiliation change to Oakland are getting plenty of playing time. Matt Chapman is third among Athletics in RBI this spring with 6 despite a batting average right at.200. Jaycob Brugman and Matt Olson have each played in a team-high 8 games while Brugman is showing consistency with a .387 average at the plate. It could be tough for many of these younger players to break camp with the Athletics considering the Major League experience Oakland has at all positions this spring. The Athletics projected depth chart can be found here.
Raul Alcantara has thrown the most innings of anyone on Oakland's staff. With recent news of Sonny Gray being shut down for a few weeks, Alcantara could slot into a rotation spot for the A's out of Spring Training.
Several former Snappers without any Major League time have made appearances in Cactus League games for Oakland. James Naile, Kyle Finnegan, Bobby Wahl, Heath Fillmeyer, and Santiago Chavez along with Matt Chapman have gotten into Big League Spring Training games. For full Spring Training statistics for the Athletics, click here.
The Beloit Snappers have been the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics since 2013. The 2017 season will be the 36th year of affiliated Minor League Baseball in Beloit. Opening Day is April 6th vs. Cedar Rapids. Individual game tickets are on sale now! Call 608-362-2272 or claim your seats for the season's top promotions at www.snappersbaseball.com.